Yes, this is a real question, and one seriously debated in a recent UN Sponsored scholarly convocation at the request, it is said, of certain influential officials of southern European ancestry who wished to be classified as persons of color (POC). It is also an aspect of a larger and more important question of whether there is an actual race of “White” people who oppress those who are not “White,” and are therefore guilty of racism and called to sacrifice their positions of power and wealth as compensation. One can readily understand why Greeks and Italians, among others, have raised this question.
The scholars who gathered to debate the matter agreed to use the new, ACLU-certified Sherwin Williams scale of white-toned pigments in order to arrive at a definitive standard of “Whiteness” that would correctly identify any person of ambiguous skin tone and bring some order to the heretofore chaotic process of sorting of people into groups of oppressors and oppressed.
There was general agreement also that these questions have merit, as the skin colors of individuals within the same ethnic groups– and even in the same White families– will vary widely, from the glossy stone or gem-like tones such as Oyster, Pearl and Alabaster White, to the soft and flat bird-derived whites of Heron Feather and Duck Duck White and in the middle, the inexpensive and common tones like Nice White and Everyday White.
It was further agreed that the group would need to consider the place on the “Whiteness” scale of the beige and tan hued people who, while not as White as some, are usually seen as White-adjacent or White-allied. Variations of this complication were also raised. An Iranian delegate, for example, who featured a complexion that the “Nice White” types would probably call a year-round tan, said that people in Iran routinely call his skin color “sabze,” derived from the Farsi word for “green,” although he did not on that account alone consider himself a POC.
Following these procedural matters, the group addressed the main question, agreeing to proceed empirically, by posing themselves individually before a mirror adjacent to an enlarged set of Sherwin Williams color palettes, soliciting a consensus of the views of his colleagues on which color they most closely matched; and then, a binary decision was rendered that the person was White (an oppressor) or not-White (a victim of oppression).
Surprisingly, what seemed in the abstract so simple, proved a contentious process in practice, with most who objected to their classification arguing for a darker color match. Many Hispanics, for example, rejected the common “Tortilla Flour” match on the Sherwin Williams scale, arguing that as Hispanics they were legally and by general agreement a marginalized people and, therefore, they could not be any shade of White. This was agreed. The one Albino delegate was also in luck, as the convocation granted her a universal voice-vote exemption from Whiteness by virtue of her skin color being a rare genetic artifact. When a few Nordic representatives briefly protested that their “Snow White” coloring was also a superficial side effect of random gene mixing, the assembly rejected their argument, reasoning that if White skin were a purely accidental product of one’s genetic constitution—like eye color–and not an evil essence, then no guilt could be attached to anyone, and the world would be left without easily identified oppressors. It would be back to class warfare, which seems to have mainly fizzled as an incitement for radicals.
A few of those judged White, from differing ethnic backgrounds, but mostly Greeks, complained that they could not be White oppressors because they were members of the LGBTQ+ class of marginalized people. There was a long discussion of this so-called “intersectional” complication, but, in the end, it was agreed that as long as a person’s sexual orientation was made as obvious as skin color by the use of various rainbow-hued pastel accessories–so that no confusion would arise in the presence of POC observers–they could claim a partial exemption from “whiteness” and would not be classified as “structural” oppressors, but were entitled to be judged individually on their acts and words. Upon hearing this judgment one gay wag declared that he felt that he had been consigned to White Purgatory.
While this and similar compromises were necessitated by the logic of intersectionality, they pleased no one. And by the end of the conference, it must be reported that the outcome was not as harmonious as expected. The sense of the meeting was that while there was no scientific basis for declaring a “White Race,” there were indeed many variously tinted White races, all linked by a common and harmful core of Whiteness, which amounted to almost the same thing.
There were resentful mutterings and dark looks as the meeting came to a close; and also an unseemly and spontaneous clustering of delegates of like skin colors. The Greeks and Italians went away bitterly disappointed that they had officially been declared “White” when all through their long history they had been Greek and Italian.
And yet a few managed to see a silver lining. Said one hopeful White delegate from the US in his closing remarks, “I can’t wait for the White race to achieve radical marginalization, if not total extinction.” And on a very personal note he further assured everyone that he was determined in the meantime to be demonstrably less “White,” although he did not explain how he meant to achieve this goal. Nevertheless, scattered applause greeted these final remarks from the podium, although by that time many of the delegates had already left the room.
[Addendum: After reports of the UN meeting went public, social media generated a wave of unexpected backlash. Among the many alleged outrages, Sherwin Williams was compelled to apologize for not offering a “Nice Black” paint color to pair with its “Nice White.” No offense was intended, the company insisted. And while there were not as many shades of black as white, the company stated that it already offered many black tints, including its popular Black Magic, Swan Black, Black of Night and the slightly oddly named Black Bean. The company promised to do better in the future, drastically reducing its inventory of White shades and increasing the supply of Blacks.]